How Identity Theft Can Ruin
Your Good Name
It can take a con only minutes to destroy a solid credit record
that may have taken you years to build.
Identity theft, a growing problem, ( 700,000 victims in U.S. last
year ) occurs when a con artist appropriates another’s name,
address, Social Security number or other identifying information
and uses that information to open new credit card accounts, take
over existing accounts, obtain loans in the victim’s name
or steal funds from the victim’s checking, savings, or investment
"Identity theft" is defined as the use, transfer or
theft of personal identifying information for the purpose of committing
a crime. This is to be contrasted with "identity fraud," which
is one of the crimes for which identity theft might be used such
as the theft of money, services or products through the use of
someone else’s identity.
A lost wallet is just one way identity thieves can steal your
personal information and wreak havoc with your personal finances.
Others methods include:
||fraudulently accessing your credit
report by posing as an employer, loan officer or landlord;
||"shoulder surfing" at
automated teller machines (ATMs) and phone booths to capture
your personal identification numbers (PINs);
||compiling info from internet accessible
||stealing mail from mailboxes to
get newly issued credit cards, bank and credit card statements,
pre-approved credit offers and tax information; and going through
trash bins for credit card and loan applications.
Victims of credit identity fraud go through a difficult and time-consuming
ordeal to convince lenders and credit reporting agencies that they
have been the victim of identity theft, have the erroneous
information removed from their credit reports and prevent future
damage from the perpetrators.
Consumer victims who turn to law enforcement also report having
difficulty obtaining help. Criminal laws for the most part do not
recognize wronged consumers as victims of identity theft. Typically,
consumers have little evidence that they themselves did not incur
the charges of identity thieves. The majority of victims do not
even know how their identifying information was compromised.
In addition, creditors who can write off losses and pass them
on to other consumers in the form of higher interest rates, fees
and costs may not pursue identity thieves. Even when creditors
refer cases to law enforcement, consumer advocates and victims
report that cases that do not meet significant dollar thresholds
(typically $50,000) fall through the cracks.
In the United States in 1997, the Secret Service made nearly 9500
arrests in which so-called identity theft was an issue, amounting
to US$745 million in losses to individual victims and financial
institutions. It has been estimated that 95% of financial crimes
in the United States involve stolen identities, with financial
losses in respect of such crime nearly doubling in the two years
The U.S. Secret Service defines identity theft as using another
person’s name and social security number for fraudulent purposes,
such as to purchase goods on credit. A larger-scale version is
what’s called identity takeover, in which thieves use the
victim's identity and credit to open bank accounts, apply for credit
and even take out loans.
Federal law prevents identity theft victims from being held liable
for bills incurred by imposters. Consumers, however, can spend
months, and even years, in repairing the damage to their good credit.
A variety of abuses of the bankruptcy system, including the concealment
of assets in bankruptcy, the making of false sworn financial statements
in bankruptcy proceedings, and the filing of bankruptcies under
false social security numbers are often dubbed "identity fraud" by
prosecutors and government regulators.
Cons attempt to obtain the benefits of bankruptcy such as relief
from debt collection, while attempting to escape negative credit
In one case they leased a residence and obtained credit with the
name and social security number of an unsuspecting victim then
they occupied the residence, ran up the credit cards, then filed
for bankruptcy in the victim’s name. One bankruptcy
petition was filed in the name of a recently deceased father.
Such fraudulent bankruptcy filings often wreak havoc on innocent
people who must spend substantial resources to clear their credits
and their names. The rampant theft and abuse of other people’s
credit histories and social security numbers has become one of
the biggest problems of consumer bankruptcy fraud.
Send out the Troops
Following is the statement of Lt. Colonel John T. Stevens,
Jr. which was presented to the Identity Theft Prevention Workshop
presented by the Social Security Administration - Office
of the Inspector General - on October 25, 2000 detailing his
experience with this crime.
Today almost everyone uses an ATM for his or her banking transactions
or whenever cash is needed. This, of course, requires a Personal
Identification Number, a PIN.
If you were applying for credit, using a credit card, renting
a videotape or cashing a check would you comply with a demand to
write your PIN on these documents? I think not. Yet, where is the
reluctance to furnish your social security number when demanded
by these same people?
Think about it. A PIN only represents a very small segment of
your life. It is usually just your bank account. A social security
number represents you. Anyone possessing it can initiate any credit
transaction in your name without being challenged. They can buy
cars, obtain loans, open charge accounts, get a traffic citation,
or have an outstanding court default judgment, all in your name
by using your social security number.
Even worse, you will not even know that it is happening until
you get that first letter or phone call from a creditor demanding
payment on an account that you never heard of until then.
Our nightmare began in 1997 when I received a call from Nations
Bank (now Bank of America) demanding payment on a 1997 Jeep Cherokee.
Although this purchase was made in Texas and financed through one
of their banks in Texas, they were calling me in Maryland where
I have now resided for almost 35 years.
I told them that I did not buy a Jeep Cherokee; I do not have
a Jeep Cherokee; and the only time I had lived in Texas was when
I was called to active duty in the Air Force in 1950. (Incidentally,
in 1950 I opened a checking account with, what is now, Bank of
This did not prevent them from opening a fraud account in my name
with a different address and other incorrect personal data.) This
prompted my wife and I to request our credit reports from the three
major credit-reporting agencies. What a shock! There were 33 fraud
accounts with a grand total of $113,000.
We learned, by trial and error, many things not to do in clearing
fraud accounts. Letters from our attorney, to the credit reporting
agencies and the creditors were ignored. My letters to the credit
reporting agencies would result in a 30-day investigation, which
usually resulted in "the information is being correctly reported".
The credit reporting agencies were of no help in locating the
address and phone number of the fraud account. I used the Internet
to track them down. Our attorney would prepare a sworn affidavit
to send to them. This affidavit would attest to the fact that we
were not the ones that opened the account. In effect, we were being
asked to prove a negative. We had to prove that we did not open
We have since learned to demand a copy of the application, copies
of the charge receipts or delivery slips. With this evidence in
hand, their claim falls apart. It proves that you did not open
the account. In reviewing the applications that we received, the
only consistently correct item was the social security number.
Any address, place of employment, birthday, spouse name or birthday
and spelling of the last name didn't matter. That 9-digit National
PIN, a social security number, was all the identification required.
We managed to clear our reports of all fraud accounts and fraud
data in about a year. My wife and I would spend 6 to 8 hours a
day locating creditors, writing letters and making phone calls.
The creditor would send a special form to the credit reporting
agencies to clear their account from our records.
We thought the nightmare was all over and that we could now begin
our move to South Carolina. Forget it! We found out the hard way
that when a creditor clears an account, that account is assigned
to a third party collection agency. I refer to this practice as
re-cycling. The third party collection agency would then place
this same cleared account back into our credit report. It was usually
listed as a charged off or collection account.
Third party collection agencies are nasty, rude, mean people to
deal with. We have cleared our credit records at least four times
now and dealt with 14 collection agencies so far. These previously
cleared accounts kept re-appearing in our reports. Even the third
party collection agencies practice re-cycling. My wife has had
one account re-cycled 6 times through different third party collection
I have had one re-cycled four times through the same third party
collection agency. This is for an account that was opened over
the phone to buy an Oreck vacuum cleaner and financed by Household
Bank. This fraud account was first cleared from my credit report
in 1997 in spite of the rudeness of the Household Bank representative.
After it was cleared from my credit report. It reappeared as an
account with Gulf States Credit in Atlanta, GA. They have provided
me with two written clearances and one verbal clearance. It was
again removed from my credit report.
Guess what? It just reappeared on my latest Equifax credit report.
This is a never-ending struggle that has no end in sight.
How can this happen? In our opinion, there is a complete lack
of accountability of the creditor and the credit-reporting agency.
As long as a social security number is provided, there seems to
be no effort to properly identify an applicant or to even insure
that all of the required information is provided in the application.
Some copies of applications that we received were not even completely
filled in. This did not inhibit approval by the creditor or the
false information being accepted by the credit-reporting agency.
The credit reporting agencies didn't even bother to question the
very obvious changes to long established personal data. Even a
check on the issue date of the social security number and the birth
date, when provided by the applicant, would have eliminated most
of our fraud accounts.
When the account goes bad, the creditor or a third party collection
agency suddenly discovers the correct information in the credit
report to locate us and begin their harassment. In our opinion,
the person opening the fraud account, the creditor and the credit
reporting agency are all co-conspirators and equally guilty of
A representative of a major credit reporting agencies once told
us that they did not have time to check the accuracy of the information
provided by their clients. There is absolutely no concern shown
by them that their lack of even providing the most rudimentary
check for authenticity of the information received in an application
is wrecking our lives and the lives of many people throughout the
If anyone had bothered to analyze our credit reports, they would
have observed that all of the old accounts, opened by us, were
good and all of the new accounts, opened by an impostor, were delinquent.
When a fraud application was sent to a credit-reporting agency,
the false information was added to our credit report and became
a part of our record. This false information must also be corrected
along with the fraud accounts. Even it is recycled back into our
credit reports after being corrected.
This is a crime that can completely disrupt your life. It is degrading
and demeaning to be accused of being an irresponsible dead-beat
and be forced to correct something that was caused by the acceptance
of the social security number, by a creditor, as the only primary
means of identification required to do business with them.
Those of us, who are active or retired members of the military,
or Medicare recipients, are especially vulnerable. The social security
number has replaced the military service number and Medicare uses
the social security number with a letter suffix. To make purchases
in a Base Commissary or a Base Exchange, my name, rank, social
security number, branch of service, address and phone numbers must
be placed on my check.
Since this check must go through many hands before it reaches
my bank, this critical personal information is being exposed to
possible fraudulent use. The authority, cited for requiring this,
is the Privacy Act of 1974 (Title 10 US Code 3013 and 8013). I
have never understood why this is called a privacy act.
It is our hope that as more people become aware of this crime,
more can be done to prevent it. I hope that all of you here today
can become the nucleolus of that force so that we can begin to
show progress toward its complete eradication.
Lt. Colonel John T. Stevens, Jr.
Mary Elizabeth H. Stevens
More info on repairing your
Steps you can take to protect your privacy and minimize
your risk of credit identity fraud:
||Guard your personal identifying
information. Before divulging it, you should find out how it
will be used and whether it will be transferred to third parties.
You should find out whether you have the choice of "opting
out" of having the information shared with third parties;
||Ensure that items containing personal
information —such as charge receipts, insurance forms
and bank statements —are disposed of safely;
||Disclose your Social Security or
SIN numbers only when absolutely necessary. Ask to use alternate
numbers as identifiers whenever possible, including on motor
||Carry only the credit cards and
identification you actually need. Those who lose credit cards
should notify their creditors by phone and request that a "fraud
alert" be placed in their file;
||Pay attention to billing cycles.
Bills that do not arrive on time may have been misdirected
by identity thieves;
||Never give out your credit card
or bank account information over the phone unless you’re
familiar with the business and have initiated the call;
||When creating passwords and PINs,
avoid using your birth date, the last four digits of your Social
Security Number or your phone number, or a series of consecutive
||Periodically check your credit
If your wallet is deemed lost or stolen, consider the following:
||File a report with the police immediately.
Get a copy in case your bank, credit card company or insurance
company need proof of the crime.
||Cancel each credit and charge card.
Get new cards with new account numbers.
||Report missing cards to the major
credit reporting agencies. Ask them to flag your accounts with
a "fraud alert" and add a "victim’s statement" to
your file if abused.
||Report the loss to your bank. Cancel
checking and savings accounts and open new ones. Stop payments
on outstanding blank checks.
||Call your utilities, including
your phone company. Tell them that someone may try to get new
service using your identification.
||Report your missing driver’s
license to the department of motor vehicles. Get a new number
that’s not your Social Security Number.
||Change the locks on your home and
car if your keys were taken. Don’t give an identity thief
access to even more personal property and information.
Call the fraud units of the three principal credit reporting companies:
To report fraud, call (800) 525-6285 or write to P.O. Box
740250, Atlanta, GA 30374-0250.
To order a copy of your credit report ($8 in most states),
write to P.O. Box 740241, Atlanta, GA 30374-0241, or call
To dispute information in your report, call the phone number
provided on your credit report.
To opt out of pre-approved offers of credit, call (888)
567-8688 or write to Equifax Options, P.O. Box 740123, Atlanta
To report fraud, call (888) EXPERIAN or (888) 397-3742,
fax to (800) 301-7196, or write to P.O. Box 1017, Allen,
To order a copy of your credit report ($8 in most states):
P.O. Box 2104, Allen TX 75013, or call (888) EXPERIAN.
To dispute information in your report, call the phone number
provided on your credit report.
To opt out of pre-approved offers of credit and marketing
lists, call (800) 353-0809 or (888) 5OPTOUT or write to P.O.
Box 919, Allen, TX 75013.
To report fraud, call (800) 680-7289 (U.S.) 1-800-663-9980
(Canada) or write to P.O. Box 6790, Fullerton, CA 92634.
To order a copy of your credit report ($8 in most states,
free in Canada), write to P.O. Box 390, Springfield, PA 19064
or call: (800) 888-4213.
To dispute information in your report, call the phone number
provided on your credit report.
To opt out of pre-approved offers of credit and marketing
lists, call (800) 680-7293 or (888) 5OPTOUT or write to P.O.
Box 97328, Jackson, MS 39238.
A victim is referred to the credit reporting agencies "Fraud
Victim Assistance Department" when their identification has
been lost or stolen. This does not include those circumstances
where just a single card has been stolen, in which case the credit
bureau cannot help. They are primarily concerned with those situations
where enough I.D. has been lost to create a potential application
STEP 1 Add Consumer Fraud Statement To Credit File
A special code (#HK#) goes on the file stating "Current/previous
address is reported by victim as misused". This is to ensure
that all application fraud victims are protected from future misuse.
For example: #HK# Fraud Victim; do not extend credit without
first contacting me personally and verifying all applicant information.
Contact me for verification at Work: (416) 609-2070 or Home: (416)
555-1212. Dated 01/00 (expires in 7 years)
STEP 2 Highlight Recent Inquiries and/or Accounts Suspected
Refer consumer to the credit-granting business or organization.
STEP 3 Notify Victim Credit Grantors
Credit-granting business or organizationis advised to check for
a recent application or opened account associated with the consumer.
STEP 4 Mail Statement Authorization Form
This permits FVAD to maintain the consumer fraud
statement on file, and authorizes Trans Union to mail the consumer
a copy of their credit file.
STEP 5 Add Fraud Data to HAWK
HAWK is the Trans Union national database of potentially fraudulent
indicative information that alerts their commercial credit granting
customers to possible fraud before they issue credit, open an account
or otherwise provide goods or services to a customer.
With application fraud, organized fraud groups typically use certain
types of addresses and telephone numbers. They also have a tendency
to re-use data. HAWK does comparisons using a database of high
risk, suspicious and fraudulent application data, including an
industry-shared negative database. When a match occurs, a warning
message is generated prompting further investigation.
invalid, issued before birth date, range not yet issued
rental boxes, mail drops, institutions, other high risk addresses,
||Phone numbers –cellular
numbers, pay phones
STEP 6 Mail Credit File to Consumer
Upon receipt of authorization form, a copy of the consumer’s
credit file is sent to them at no charge in Canada, after any needed
corrections and the consumer fraud statement are placed on the
file. A dispute form is included with the credit file.
STEP 7 Restore Credit File To It’s Accurate State
FVAD will investigate any disputed credit information and restore
the consumer’s credit file to it’s accurate state.
STEP 8 Inform Consumer that they must contact Equifax
Although their FVAD does not have any direct contact or collaboration
with Equifax, they do refer fraud victims over to them, so that
victims are able to review and annotate both credit bureau files.
The consumers report their fraud directly to the police (usually
on the advice of a credit grantor). Credit reporting services
do not actively get involved in any police efforts except in compliance
of subpoenas for credit bureau files.
The only major differences between the US
and Canada are as follows:
||1) The "SSN" is
called the Social Insurance Number (SIN).
2) Credit reports are free in Canada.
3) There are only two bureaus in Canada - Trans Union
generation and the sale of "header" information
for marketing purposes has
never been allowed in Canada.
Further info on the topic can be found
at the U.S. based Identity
Theft Resource Center ( Linda Foley, Executive
Director ) or the FTC's
ID Theft Section. 1-877-438-4338
Institute of Criminology - Discussion papers on identity
Information, Individual Reference and Look-up Services
In response to growing public and Congressional concern, the FTC
examined the availability of sensitive personal identifying information
through computerized database services which are used to locate,
identify, or verify the identity of individuals, often referred
to as "individual reference services" or "look-up
The Commission found that a vast amount of your personal information
is available to customers of individual reference services through
networks and increasingly over the Internet.
Information available through the services ranges from purely
identifying information, e.g., name and phone number, to much more
extensive data, e.g., driving records, criminal and civil court
records, property records, and licensing records.
The Commission also learned that convenient access to this type
of information confers a myriad of benefits on users of these services
and on society. The look-up services enable law enforcement agencies
to carry out their missions, parents to find missing children,
journalists to report the news, and creditors to find dead-beats.
At the same time, the increasing availability of this information
poses various risks of harm to your privacy and financial interests,
including the possibility of increasing identity theft.
A set of new industry "principles" was adopted by companies
that operate these services. They say they will not distribute
to the general public non-public information such as Social Security
numbers, birth dates, mother's maiden names, credit histories,
financial histories, medical records, or any information about
Look-up services may not allow the general public to run searches
using a Social Security number as a search term or make available
information gathered from marketing transactions. Also, consumers
will be allowed to obtain access to the non-public information
maintained about them and to "opt-out" of that non-public
Public record information and publicly available information shall,
however, be usable without restriction unless legally prohibited.
Qualified subscribers for the selective and limited distribution
of non-public information must: state their appropriate uses for
such information. agree to limit their use and re-dissemination
of such information to such appropriate uses. be reasonably identified
and meet qualification requirements that establish them as appropriate
users of the information and agree to terms and conditions consistent
with these principles prior to accessing the information.
More info on this topic may be obtained at:
Privacy Rights Clearinghouse,
1717 Kettner Avenue, Suite 105,
San Diego, CA 92101
(619) 298-3396; fax: (619) 298-5681;
e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org ;
I am sick of giving out personal information in order to receive
common services such as auto insurance and car payment quotes. Just
look at the info you have to fill out in order to get the savings
on sale items with those stupid preferred shoppers cards.
I shouldn't have to fill out a form to save 50 cents on a head
of lettuce. Nor should the register clerk be able to plot
your wife's menstrual cycle based on past Tampon purchases. No
one should be passed over because they do not want to divulge personal
info. This has got to stop now.
Many businesses have call centers inside prisons. Imagine
if your info is being handled by an inmate who is due to get out
in a year. I also recall several instances when I went to
buy batteries at "RS" and they asked every person in
line for their SSN# insisting they needed this info.
What's next? I can't eat if I don't give out my resume. I
am surprised at how many of us have put up with this for so long.
Dr. Turmenne 04/18/02
Identity Verification Methods
The National Fraud Center (Lexis-Nexis) focuses on the analysis
and the development of tools to prevent economic crime, particularly
money laundering and identity theft. These tools have included
automated solutions used to verify and validate financial customers
They have designed and implemented one of the first identity validation
tools that takes an applicant’s or a claimant’s identifying
information, and determines whether there are internal inconsistencies.
For example, they can discern if the area code or an exchange
of an applicant’s telephone number is not in close proximity
to the zip code of the applicant’s address. It can also determine
if an applicant’s social security number was issued before
the date of birth. They also have tools which take and match the
identifiers of the applicant or claimant against available databases
containing personal identifying information.
My ID Fix - Commercial venture
which aids identity theft victims with reporting.
of Ontario Identity Theft Info - Reporting ID theft to relevant
Theft: A Pernicious and Costly Fraud - research paper - pdf
Theft Resources - links
Theft after death - assuming the identity of a deceased person -
Theft Working Group - Canada
Always Glad to Help
I'm the online campaign coordinator for the Financial Privacy
team at Consumers Union. You're probably well aware that
our shocking lack of financial privacy puts us all at risk for
crimes like identity theft on a daily basis and that changes taking
place in Congress right now could threaten our financial privacy
rights even more.
That's why we've launched a new campaign, financialprivacynow,
to protect American's identity and credit. Since Crimes of Persuasion's
web pages deal with related issues, we're hoping you'd be willing to
join forces with us to make sure that our financial privacy protections
get strengthened, not weakened by Congress.
Current privacy campaign is seeking to have Medical Insurance
Companies exclude Social Security Numbers from wallet cards.
If you would like to help, there are a variety of things you could do
and they all boil down to helping us spread the word about this issue
and the campaign. Concerned citizens can use the FinancialPrivacyNow.org
web site to send free emails to their members of Congress urging them
to pass stronger financial privacy protections.
If you'd like to help us protect financial privacy, please click the
link below for a variety of ways you can help promote FinancialPrivacyNow.org
and also learn more about the campaign.
Feel free to contact me anytime at email@example.com or 202-478-6172.
Thanks so much,
Online Campaign Coordinator
2120 L St., NW, Suite 400
Washington, DC 20037
Opting Out of Credit Reviews
Consumers need to monitor their credit score since insurance companies
use it to accept or deny auto and home coverage and as a factor
in calculating premiums.
People don't realize that those numerous credit card offers they
receive in the mail actually erode their credit score even when
the consumer doesn't accept the card.
The system doesn't distinguish between companies reviewing reports
as a way to search for reliable new customers and a person in financial
trouble who is repeatedly applying for credit from those same companies.
A phone number (1-888-567-8688) allows people to opt out of allowing
review of their credit history without permission.
About 70 percent of credit reports contain mistakes. About 30
percent contain errors negatively affecting the credit score and,
as a result, insurance premiums.
To check a credit report, consumers should call the three main
•Equifax, 800-525-6285 or www.credit.equifax.com.
•Experian, 888-397-3742 or www.experian.com.
•Trans Union, 800-888-4213 or www.transunion.com
Two firms provide credit score information:
•Choice Point at 800-342-5339 or www.choicetrust.com.
•Fair Issacs at www.myfico.com.
People should scrutinize their reports for unknown credit listings
as well other bills and statements for suspicious transactions.
Also check out the government site dealing with getting an annual
credit report at www.annualcreditreport.com/